On Friday, the City Rail Link (CRL) took another important step forward with the government and council officially signing agreements to create a jointly owned company to deliver the project – City Rail Link Ltd (CRLL). The new company will take over delivery of the project from Auckland Transport.
To coincide with the creation of CRLL, there is also now a new official website.
All of the press releases talk up the impact the CRL will have. Steven Joyce, who spent years opposing the project, now calls the project “game changing” while also saying that it’s important CRLL deliver a “high-quality result for the city“. Meanwhile, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says “Once complete, the CRL will fundamentally change the way people get around central Auckland” and “CRL is Auckland’s top new transport priority. It will double the capacity of the whole existing rail network and provide significant travel time savings for commuters“. The statements are interesting for two reasons.
One, it’s notable that neither Minister uses the term “transformational” when talking about the CRL, like they have done with projects like Waterview. Very few transport projects are actually transformational but if any recent transport project in Auckland was to fall into that category, it would be the CRL. To transform means to change profoundly and most of our recent motorway projects, while large, are so mply an extension of what we’ve done before. They’re all about reinforcing existing travel behaviours and land use, ultimately allowing and encouraging more driving and congestion. The CRL takes an important step towards reinventing Auckland as a metro city and one that will drive change in both how people get around and in land use.
Arguably, to find the last time Auckland saw a project as transformational as the CRL we’d have to look back almost 60 years to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. We have written about this comparison before and it’s worth keeping its story front of mind, because as I’ll explain shortly, there are likely some similar characteristics between it and the CRL. One of the key features of transformational projects is that the effects of them are usually misunderstood, even by those in favour of them or charged with delivering them. Because if a project is really transformational they will change more things than most expect.
We surely all know the story of the Harbour Bridge; that it was built too small, a condition that became apparent almost immediately, which brings us to our second point.
We’ve been increasingly wondering if the CRL is going to transformational enough, that it’s going to suffer the same fate as the Harbour Bridge and that by being underground, it won’t be as simple as to bolt on some additional capacity a few years later. In large part, what we build today will be with us for generations to come.
As highlighted from the comments above, all of the talk of the CRL is how it will double the number of trains and the capacity of the system. Doubling the capacity of the rail network is undoubtedly impressive, and we’ve sure seen some impressive growth in recent years, but it’s not exactly as if our system is starting from a really high base. We currently have around 19.5 million trips annually on the network and that is likely to grow to around 25 million by the time the CRL opens, currently expected in 2023. That suggests we could eventually see about 50 million trips per year on rail after the CRL opens.
But as we know, Auckland is expected to grow strongly in the coming decades. Between 2013 and 2043, around 700,000 extra people were expected to make Auckland home, based on Statistics NZ medium predictions. However, we’re currently exceeding even the high growth assumptions. If those trends continue we could see 1 million or more people living in the region by then. The CRL will help move a lot more people but even using the lower growth assumptions it won’t be enough.
So, we’ve been thinking about how we can get more out of the CRL. First though, here’s a few things we know about its capacity.
- Our current trains are up to 6 cars in length and carrying up to 750 people each.
- Our current network runs at a maximum of 20 trains per hour (TPD), 6TPH on the Western, Southern and Eastern lines and 2TPH on the Onehunga Line.
- The CRL team have told us in the past that at opening, CRL can handle 18TPH per direction or 36 trains an hour through the tunnel
- They’ve also said that with additional investment the capacity could be further increased to 24TPH per direction or 48 trains an hour.
That puts the ultimate potential capacity of the CRL at about 36,000 people an hour.
The first option for further increasing capacity on the network would be to reconfigure our existing trains. Currently the seats in the centre of the trailer cars have only sideways seating, as opposed to the commuter style seating in the rest of the trains. I’ve suggested before that we could replicate the seating layout of the trailer cars across the entire train. What’s lost in seats is more than made up for in standing capacity. I’m not sure exactly how many extra people that could fit on a train but as a rough guess I think it could allow an extra 80 people per 6-car train (20 extra per non-trailer carriage). That would give approximately an 11% boost to capacity (up to 40k per hour in CRL).
Next, what if we could make our trains longer. Perhaps a future fleet could have seven, eight or even nine cars per train. Assuming they also set up as described above they could give even greater capacity boosts with a 9-car train holding up to 1,250 people. By my estimations that could deliver up to 47k, 53k or a whopping 60k per hour through the CRL, about a 2/3rds increase on what is currently planned and over four times what’s currently possible. To highlight this I’ve put a little graph together showing how the capacity increases in each of the scenarios described.
Of course to run longer trains, we’d also need to make changes to our stations. This includes both the platforms and ensuring they’re designed for larger passenger volumes. In this post I’m just looking at the platforms but will look at other aspects in separate posts.
With the exception of the Onehunga line, our platforms are currently designed for 6-car trains and are a minimum of 150m long. A 6-car train is about 144m long. While I’m sure there would be some challenges, it seems that most stations outside of the CRL could have their platforms lengthened with some work. But that would leave the CRL, which we have once chance to get it right. I’ve taken a look at a few of the public CRL documents to see if longer platforms are possible, here’s what I found.
Surprisingly it appears that Aotea station is already designed big enough to handle up to 9-car trains. This long section of the station shows that there is a 150m active platform, book-ended by the escalators at each end, but that the actual platform that the public can access is much, much longer. By my estimations about 50% longer and just enough that a 9-car train could fit.
This is reinforced in this image of the future station showing the platforms extending well past the escalators on either side.
Unfortunately, unlike Aotea there is no single long section showing the platform length, the closest I can find publicly are these two versions showing the North and South ends of the station. There’s an outline of a train on the platforms and based on that it appears that the station’s platforms will only just be long enough for the trains we have – likely a 150m platform.
I wonder what it would take to make the platforms long enough for a 9-car train.
Like K Rd, it is hard to tell just how long the platforms are at the new Mt Eden station. However, it appears that based on this plan, there should be enough space. The active platform (darker grey, mostly hidden by a bridge and future development) looks to have plenty of space with which it could be extended.
Last but not least, let’s not forget about Britomart. The changes to the station to extend platforms 1 & 5 into the CRL tunnel appear to give at least enough space for an additional carriage. After the tunnels are opened the plan is also to eventually make changes to the eastern end of Britomart. The station will reduce to four platforms (to give platforms 1 & 5 more space), access from the eastern end will be improved while there will also be changes to the tracks and signalling. I wonder if part of that the CRL platforms could be lengthened enough to get to eight or nine car trains?
From looking at the various documents it appears that with the exception of Karangahape Rd. most of the stations would have enough space for at least one extra carriage, maybe more. If that is the case then it would really behove CRLL to look at ways they could make K Rd a bit longer. Especially when even a single extra carriage and reconfigured trains could add about 30% extra capacity.
Let’s not let the opportunity of the CRL go to waste and become another Harbour Bridge